The Polar RS800CX sits at the top of the product tree. This is a serious piece of kit that can connect to just about any accessory that you might want. Unlike the Polar CS500 that I reviewed a few weeks ago, the RS800CX is a traditional wrist based device, making it a versatile training partner that can turn its hand to a number of disciplines.

What you’ve got in the RS800CX is a wrist unit that not only measures your heart rate, but can also calculate speed and distance, using a plethora of different sensors, as well as cadence – if you happen to be cycling. Oh, and for good measure, you can even get your exercise route laid out over a map once you’re done in a similar manner to the Garmin Edge 500.

What’s in the box?

That’s not such a simple question this time, since the RS800CX comes with a variety of bundles. If you’re a cyclist you can buy the bike specific bundle, which ships with speed and cadence sensors for your bike. If you’re a runner you can opt for the runner’s package, which comes with the s3 Stride Sensor, so you can measure every step you take. Then there’s the Multi bundle, that ships with the G3 GPS sensor, and that’s the version that Polar sent me for review.


So, inside this particular box, you get the RS800CX itself, which is a pretty chunky unit. That said, it wraps around the wrist nicely, and even on my admittedly slim wrists, it doesn’t overwhelm. The silver screen surround and strap may be a little flashy for some, but the RS800CX somehow carries it off.

Being a range topping device, it comes as no surprise that the RS800CX utilises Polar’s 2.4GHz WIND wireless technology. As such, there’s a WearLink WIND heart rate monitor in the box, along with a chest strap to keep it in place. I like the design of the WearLink HRM, since it’s just the fabric strap that’s touching your skin, making it far more comfortable than the plastic sensor straps that some devices ship with.


The kind of person who buys the RS800CX is most definitely going to want to analyse the data that this device captures, so Polar has bundled a USB IrDA adapter. I’ve got to say that I’m somewhat disappointed that the RS800CX still uses infrared to transfer data, especially when the CS500 uses WIND technology to transfer its files. To be fair, the RS800CX does predate the CS500 by a good while and the fact that you’re still getting the ability to transfer data in the box is nothing to be sniffed at.


The next piece of the puzzle in this particular RS800CX bundle is the G3 GPS sensor. The G3 comes with an elasticated Velcro strap so that it can be worn on your upper arm, and it’s fairly comfortable once in place. There’s also a snap-lock at the rear, so you could attach it to a backpack instead. Like the WearLink HRM, the G3 GPS sensor utilises the WIND wireless interface to ensure that you get no interference from other devices while you’re using it.


Finally you get a paper quick start guide and a CD containing the full user manual, as well as the Polar ProTrainer 5 software for planning and analysing your training.

Setup and configuration

The beauty of using the Multi RS800CX bundle is that there’s not much to setup. Because the G3 GPS sensor comes in the box, it has already been paired to the RS800CX, so you’re all ready to go. That said, pairing the device with new sensors is incredibly quick and easy, as I found out when I paired it with the speed and cadence sensors that are resident on my bike.


Sticking with the G3 for now though, setup is as simple as inserting the supplied AA battery, switching it on and attaching it to your upper arm. The device will flash green when it has made contact with enough satellites to get a reading, and once you press start on the RS800CX is will make a connection with both the G3 and the WearLink HRM, and you’re ready to go.


So, you can be out the door and training in a matter of minutes, but it won’t hurt to spend a little time tailoring the RS800CX to you. For a start you can perform the fitness test, which gives you an estimated VO2max reading, and helps you set your training zone. In fact you can choose a training setting that is based solely on your OwnZone, which is the result of your fitness test. Alternatively you can choose to set your heart rate limits manually, or you can choose Free, which puts no zone limits on your training.


Other bits and pieces that you’ll want to get sorted straight away are your own data – height, weight, age etc. You’ll also want to set which type of units you want the RS800CX to display – metric or imperial. Annoyingly, I’d quite like a mixture of the two, but maybe I’m just strange!


If you’re planning on using the RS800CX when cycling, you can use the G3 to log your speed and distance, but if you’re a serious cyclist, you’ll want dedicated sensors on your bike. The sensors can be bought separately, so you don’t need to lay out the cash for every accessory off the bat. The speed sensor mounts to your front fork, with the corresponding magnet attached to a spoke, while the cadence sensor mounts to your non-drive side chainstay, with the magnet attached to the inside of the crank arm. Check out my review of the Polar CS500 for more information on mounting the sensors.


I don’t know how easy it is to setup and configure the s3 Stride Sensor, since I didn’t have one to hand. However, Sandra will be looking at the s3 very soon, so check back for her verdict.

Adding to its versatility, the RS800CX can store the data for up to three bikes and three sets of running shoes. Not only is this great for a cyclist with several bikes, just like myself, but it also means that multiple runners can share the device and just choose their own shoe/stride sensor setting before training.

Design and usability

The Polar design department has once again done a good job, and the RS800CX both looks good, and is easy to use, even while exercising. Below the large display is Polar’s trademark big, red start/lap button. Not only does this make it easy for you to start the clock when you start training, but it also makes it very easy to measure specific sections of your ride/run, by hitting the lap button at the beginning and end of said section.


Talking of lapping, the RS800CX also has an auto-lap function, so that the watch will automatically start a new lap after a certain distance has been travelled. This is particularly useful if you want to monitor how your pace changes over the course of your run or ride, while also making it very easy to time yourself over a given distance.

As well as the front mounted start/lap button, there are for edge buttons – one in each corner. The design of the RS800CX makes it very easy to locate and press the side mounted buttons, even when you’re exercising. Basically the casing protrudes slightly in each corner, with each button sitting at the peak of each protrusion. Having side buttons that are easy to reach and press means that the RS800CX works very well on your wrist, even when you’re cycling – although you can buy a handlebar mount that fits all of Polar’s wrist units.


When you start your training you can switch through six different information screens – Heart Rate, Stopwatch, Lap Time, Speed, Distance and Altitude – and each screen has three lines of data displayed. The good news is that you can customise each and every line of data on each and every info screen, which means that you can have your data displayed exactly the way you want it. Not having the right data mix on screen is one of the most common complaints levelled at fitness computers, so it’s good to see that the RS800CX is fully customisable.


It was also good to see that I was able to go for a ride using both the RS800CX and CS500 hooked up to the same HRM, speed and cadence sensors without any issues. Both devices returned the same speed, distance, cadence and heart rate data, although the calorie count on the RS800CX was consistently lower than that on the CS500, but only marginally. The speed and distance data recorded by the G3 GPS sensor was also very close to that recorded on the CS500 via its sensors.

As you’d expect from a high-end training computer, you can customise your workout as easily as you can the info screens. You can configure an interval workout based on time, distance or even your heart rate. If you’re riding/running a specific route that you know well, you could set your intervals so that you’re pushing hard over specific sections and recovering over others. If however, you’re trying a new route, you could set your intervals based on time and push up to your theoretical maximum heart rate for five minutes every 20 minutes, for example.


Of course you can configure the RS800CX to warn you if you stray out of the training zone that you’ve set for your session, or for that specific part of it. You can also lock a specific zone while you’re training, if you feel that you want to keep in that zone for a while.

One area where the RS800CX doesn’t work too well though, is in the gym. That’s not to say that you can’t use it as a heart rate monitor while you’re in the gym, because you can. However, if you like to see your heart rate displayed on the machines you use in the gym, you’ll be disappointed, since the WearLink WIND sensor isn’t compatible.


To be fair, the RS800CX isn’t really aimed at the gym goer, and Polar has a range of cross training computers aimed squarely at that type of user, with the FT80 sitting at the top of that range. I own an FT80 myself and can confirm that the WearLink Coded HRM that ships with it is picked up by gym machines without issue. Unfortunately it’s not compatible with the speed and distance bike sensors though – life’s just full of compromises.

Synchronising your data

As already mentioned, the RS800CX comes bundled with a USB IrDA adapter, which can transfer data from the device to your computer over an infrared connection. In fact, if you happen to have a notebook that’s old enough to still sport an IrDA port, you won’t even need the USB dongle.

Because infrared connections need clear line of sight, Polar also bundles a USB extension cable, which makes it easier to line up the RS800CX with the IrDA adapter. Once a connection is established the data is transferred quite quickly, especially considering that data can go both ways.


Unfortunately the synchronisation process isn’t quite as slick as it is on the CS500. Whereas the CS500 will automatically connect to your PC once you plug in the DataLink dongle, the RS800CX requires you to start the connection process on the computer and then on the device itself before the transfer will begin.


The Polar ProTrainer 5 software does the job pretty well, and gives you a good breakdown of all your data, allowing you to paw over it at your leisure. You can also build up your own training calendar, which will then transfer to the RS800CX in an attempt to get you out the door, even on those cold rainy days.


The ProTrainer 5 software will also map your routes for you when you’ve used the G3 GPS sensor as part of your training session. However, unlike the Garmin Connect portal which overlays your route onto Google maps, ProTrainer 5 insists that you install Google Earth before you can see exactly where you’ve been. It’s still a great feature, but it’s a hassle having to install and run Google Earth every time I want to see where I’ve been.

The big limitation of ProTrainer 5 though, is that it’s a local application, rather than an online portal like www.polarpersonaltrainer.com. Luckily, you can upload data from the RS800CX to the Polar Personal Trainer site, but again, it’s not quite as smoothly done as with the CS500. While the CS500 will connect to your PC, transfer the data, automatically upload it to Polar Personal Trainer and even open your web browser at the site, the process is a little more, well, manual with the RS800CX.


First you need to download the Polar WebLink application, which is not to be confused with the WebSync application that the CS500 and FT80 use. Then you need to fire up WebLink, but before you hit the Start button on the screen, you need to put the RS800CX into connection mode and line it up with the USB IrDA dongle. Then you can press the Start button in the WebLink window, and your data will be uploaded to Polar Personal Trainer.


The data that you’re presented with on the Polar Personal Trainer site is pretty much the same that you’ll see for the CS500 or FT80, but the route mapping feature is conspicuous by its absence. If you want to look at your route overlaid on Google Earth, you’re going to have to do that with the ProTrainer 5 software. So, you’ll probably end up having to use a combination of the local software and the online portal to get the best out of the data captured by the RS800CX.

Conclusion

If you’re serious about your training, there’s no doubt that the RS800CX will help you maximise your fitness. There’s a wealth of functionality built into this watch, and you could use it for months and still find features that surprise you. It’s also extremely comfortable to wear for long periods, no matter how hot and sweaty you get.

The fact that the RS800CX can be used with a plethora of accessories will only make it more attractive to fitness obsessed individuals. If you split your time between cycling, running and hiking, the CS800CX will have you covered. Plus the ability to completely customise the info screens will be hugely attractive to many potential buyers.


You can limit the initial purchase cost of the RS800CX by opting for the basic package with just the HRM, or maybe the runner or bike specific bundles. You can then add the other sensors as and when you can afford them, making this a training partner that can grow with you.

It’s not all good news though, because the 2.4GHz WIND HRM sensor won’t be compatible with the machines in your gym, so if you do much of your training there, you’re better off looking at the FT80, which ships with a heart rate monitor that will work with treadmills, cross trainers etc.


Also, although the RS800CX can sync with your computer out of the box, it uses older infrared technology, rather than the wireless DataLink favoured by the CS500 or the FlowLink pad that the FT80 uses. That said, you can still upload your data to the Polar Personal Trainer cloud, albeit without the route mapping feature.

All in all, I can see why the RS800CX sits at the top of the Polar tree, but I do think that an update is in order, even if it’s just replacing the infrared syncing with DataLink – the device supports the 2.4GHz WIND interface after all. If you want a single device for all your pursuits, the RS800CX makes a decent case for itself. That said, I’d probably go for a CS500 for my bike and an FT80 for running and gym work, even if it is a slightly more expensive option.

Pros:

  • Feature packed for serious training
  • Fully customisable info screens
  • Compatible with G3 GPS sensor
  • Compatible with speed and cadence sensors
  • Compatible with s3 stride sensor
  • IrDA dongle bundled for data upload
  • Easy to configure interval training
  • Auto lap feature by distance
  • Fitness test for estimated VO2max
  • Fully configurable training zones
  • Route mapping via G3 GPS sensor

Cons:

  • Uses infrared instead of 2.4GHz WIND for data upload
  • Integration with Polar Personal Trainer portal could be slicker
  • Route mapping only available on local software, not online
  • HRM not compatible with gym equipment
  • Expensive if you want all the sensor options

Manufacturer: Polar

SRP:

  • RS800CX – £369.50
  • RS800CX Bike – £379.50
  • RS800CX Run – £464.50
  • RS800CX Multi – £464.50